Ten Things to Make Your Renders Suck Less


I think I’ll change the pace of my posts, and offer something more along the original intent of this thread.

Ten Things to Make Your Renders Suck Less

  1. Motivate your lights - As much as possible, every light in your scene should have a logical source to it. Is your key light coming from a lamp? a window? the sun? Sure you’ll wind up cheating the position and intensity of lights a bit for a better look, but try to keep them logically consistent

  2. Don’t be afraid of the dark - Too much CG is over-lit (high key lighting). Let parts of the scene be under-lit, or drop into near black. You still want some shape in your dark areas/shadows, but it can be just the suggestion of forms. If you know an area will always be in near darkness, this is also an opportunity to save some time an not model/texture everything in this area to a detailed level.

  3. Dark scenes do not mean under-exposed scenes - If you have a night-time scene or a dark interior scene, don’t just turn down the intensity of all the lights and call it a day. Drop the intensity of your fill, and even cool your fills off with a blue tint, but keep some elements of your scene properly lit. A character that is lit from the side (or slightly from behind) with a full intensity key and then darker fills will look better than a character that is more front lit but with the key turned way down in intensity

  4. Depth of Field - We are used to looking at images taken by a camera, and camera lenses are unable to keep everything in focus at once. Items that are too near or too far from the focal point have softer focus. This can be done in 3D (slow to calculate) or 2D (faster, but with more artifacts that have to be worked around). Also remember that you need to use a circle/bokeh blur, not a gaussian blur if you are doing this in comp.

  5. Keep your light sets separate - In real life, you often have to light your actors/subjects with at least some of the same lights that light your environment. But as a result you wind up having to set up all sorts of flags, diffusers, barn doors, scrims, etc. in order to keep the light at one intensity for one object in frame, and another intensity for other objects in the frame. If you separate out your environment and your subject where possible and light them with different sets of light, then you have more control over the lighting of each element. Each of your characters can be lit with their own set of lights as well. Most CG films I’ve worked on have a set of lights (key, fill, a couple of rim lights) for each character, and these lights are constrained to the center of gravity/placer of the character and move with that character (but don’t rotate… they stay aligned to world space). This gives you a lot of control over each character’s lighting, and you can adjust one character without affecting the others. Also by rendering characters separately, you save a lot of time when you are tweaking lights. Then the characters are put together in the compositing program to create the final image.

  6. Learn to use a compositor - Whether you are using Photoshop/Gimp for still images or Nuke/Shake/After Effects for image sequences, you should learn to use a compositing program. It is much faster to make color corrections, blur edges, fix render artifacts, adjust fog/atmosphere/fx-levels, adjust reflection amounts, etc. in 2D rather than tweaking settings in your 3D package and re-rendering. The faster you can turn around and see the results of a change/tweak, the more interations you can perform in a given amount of time. The more iterations you can pull off, the better you can make your art. This also ties into the above suggestion that you render layers separately so that a tweak that affects one element doesn’t require re-rendering them all. Don’t get caught up in trying to get perfect renders out of your 3D package. Get useable layers out of your 3D package, your 2D package, your particle engine, etc, and then blend them together in your compositor.

  7. Linear Workflow - As others have mentioned, linear workflow is very important when you want lighting that you can control. Others have covered the how and the why of this elsewhere, so I’ll only mention it here.

  8. Composition - Likewise, I’ll echo the sentiments of others and stress that image composition is very important. Make the meaning of your image clear. Light and compose to focus on your subject matter. Remove distractions from elsewhere in your frame. Especially if you have moving images, and your audience can only focus on the image for the few seconds (or fraction of a second) that it is on-screen, you want to focus attention and remove distractions so that your intended message comes across.

  9. Calibrate your Monitor - If you have access to colorometers that can be used to adjust the color levels, brightness, and contrast of your monitor, then do it. Otherwise there are test images and procedures out there (Google is your friend), that will help you at least get your monitor somewhat close to calibrated. I’ve run across several renders that were too dark, and the reason turned out to be that the artist had the brightness on their monitor cranked soo high that they were able to see the image, but it was way too dark for everyone else.

  10. Atmosphere - One of the things that make CG images look very CG is that their color stays the same across vast distances. In real life (assuming you are on a decent-sized planet’s surface) you view distant objects through a lot of air. This air has color and opacity that blocks/scatters the light moving through it. So if you are looking at objects more than a few meters away, you should add some sort of atmosphere to your render (usually best done in your compositing package). Render out a depth-from-camera pass (z-depth), bring it into your comp package, adjust the values with expand/gamma/curves, multiply it by your fog color, and add it back in on top of your image. This additional atmosphere really helps to sell that your image exists in the world, and gives it a sense of depth.

There, hope that helps in a constructive way. :slight_smile:



Hi guilemo, I think that would be impossible since non crappy art varies and over time all the things mentioned in such a list would soon become part of a similar list like “10 reasons why your render sucks”. know what i mean? it would all become cliche or old news…like the ps lens flare. some staples like good aa settings and composition laws will never die but it all boils down to the situation, scene and the artist…

I stand corrected! all very good “timeless” points MDuffy!!! good post and very helpful!


Can we replace the pg 1 list with your list? :applause: It’s much more technically constructive and informative. That first list reads like noob whining, and many of the entries have little or nothing to do with actual rendering.


Assembles the forum goblins to whisk in and weave some magical thread splitting spells

Voila, a new thread. As much as I enjoyed the last thread, this one may prove more constructive in terms of other’s contributions. Let’s hear everyone’s tips for this.


This tip, in particular, really stands out for me as being essential. All too often, I see the note “no post work” added to images, as if it’s some badge of pride. Oddly enough, nine times out of ten, that image ironically would have been greatly improved with post work.

People really, really need to move past this pointless sense of “artistic purity” when it comes to software and techniques. What matters in the end is the image itself, not the process you used to create it. If you end up painting a whole lot of detail on top of the render in Photoshop - so what? Does it make the image better? Yes? Then do it. Because software and techniques develop and change, but the image should last a lifetime.


One pitfall on this, that a lot of people fall into, is overdoing a severely shallow DOF effect, it can be easy to get slap-happy with it because it looks cool, and there’s a lot of renders of otherwise amazingly lit/detailed models that end up looking like miniatures or tilt-shift lens photos.

Just like in real photography, it should be used judiciously. If you’re recreating a specific look or style, it might serve you to look for many real photos of similar subjects and see how they manage and make use of their DOF effects. There are plenty of times when shallow DOF and very blurry stylized pictures are taken for effect, but again it all depends on the look you want and it’s useful to study what makes something look the way it does.

Of course this mostly applies to renders where realism is the intent, but it’s something to be aware of as far as perception of your scene even in more fantastical/whimsical situations.

Just my .02 on that.


Cool & thanks. I’ll check 'em out. :slight_smile:


Very well said! There’s a significant history of precision-minded artists being lured to the precision & even “purity” of software-produced images, and this will likely be the case for the near future, at least. It’s very easy to get so wrapped up in the technical side of art creation these days that you lose sight of the original goal.

It’s like the silly declarations of musical purists on the back of 70s & 80s guitar-rock album covers, “No Computers or Synthesizers Used!” Yeah, but if your music still sucks…it still sucks.


Definitely thirded/fourthed.

It’s understandable as some kind of exercise, but especially if your end goal is production, you want to get in the mindset of taking advantage of every available trick, and utilizing layers and compositing is essential to most pipelines. And even if you’re a one-person-band, it just saves time, adds enormous flexibility, and makes your work look richer.

Imagine if TV shows and movies used only raw ungraded footage straight out of the camera. Hell most “reality” shows get a colorist pass. In image terms, it’s like expecting youtube flip-cam video to look like a beautifully graded commercial.

Along with basic color theory, some study in film stocks (no matter how obsolete), and docus on coloring work for film and other mediums could be beneficial. There’s so much you can do for mood and look and feel with it.


Research your subject, the more you know about something the easier it is to create a great image about it.


Great post mduffy


Good tips!!


Great tips! Thank you!


Haha, ideally you could have a thread: 10 reasons why your renders suck, and 10 ways to make it better :stuck_out_tongue:

That sounds pretty constructive to me haha.


Good read!! Thx for composing this thread !! Thx cgsociety for FP-ing it.


hehe cool threads at CGTalk :beer:


You know, as off the mark as this might sound, this rings very true in so many ways. The reason this stands out to me is because I do fantasy artwork. But I base my fantasy in reality. This means everything has to have a practicality. And I’ve seen many pics of armor that would leave the one wearing it dead. Sounds stupid I know, but every time I see some rpg promos, or fantasy cover art, poorly designed armor just leaps out at me. to me it says the guy that designed that armor had no clue how armor works, and why certain parts are made the way they are. Everyone tells me it’s nit picking, but like you said, if you are going to create an image about something, better know your stuff or do your homework, because those that do know their stuff will call you out on it.



Some great information there Duffy, nice to hear some tips from a professional lighting TD.

Another tip that I hope is useful:
Materials look different when viewed from different angles and under different intensities of light. A lot of materials become more reflective at glancing angles (an Intuos surface is a good example of this). Some (like a lot of car paints) change colour. Colours often appear more saturated when in shadow or under dim light.


patience and experience


My little contribution about modeling (with special attention on human modeling), which isn’t much represented in the first list:

  • Get as many references as you can.(as mentioned by TheANIMAL)

  • Learn how to do a mesh for the targeted purpose and find out how others solve the same problem.

  • Take a look at your model in very small views as well while modeling. Use different cameras to be able to switch quickly between detail and general views. Remember: one of the advantages of a sculptor over 3d modelers is his ability of changing views very quickly.

  • Get aware of your mistakes with scaling and keep an eye on them.

  • Get aware of your personal style of creating shapes. Play with it - make it stronger, or avoid it if precise picturing is needed. On the other hand be aware of your personal liking while creating realistic humans - keep an eye on them to not overdo those shapes.

  • Avoid cliché shaping if going for originality. Not all males look like a Silver Back and not all females like having melons built in. Check as many successful artworks of that genre as you can and analyse the reason for their success. Also robots, warriors, and amazons can be done in a refreshingly new way.

  • Go for perfectionism also with low res objects. Don’t get into details too soon.(One of the most common mistakes)

  • Humans are getting familiar with shapes while seeing them for a while, which is true also for wrong shapes. Leaving the project for some days or/and showing the piece to others can be very helpful to detect mistakes. But analyse every critique - they have always a reason, which might be very personal, or they might concern something else than mentioned.

Hope you can correct/add some points… :slight_smile: